State of Boston Architecture

stefal

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Didn't see a thread relating to this (I went back to about 2008, and starting cringing once I reached the foreclosure map thread).

BLDUP has been promoting their new (free) Boston Real Estate Market Report, looking at developers, contractors, and, of most relevance to this board, architects, and I took a glance at it. I won't post all of the details here, as it is easily accessible on their blog, but I was a bit surprised by the architecture firm breakdown by square footage. Expecting Elkus to come in first by a longshot, Stantec actually takes the #1 spot, followed by ICON, then Elkus. Together, they are well over a quarter of Boston's real estate under design. 6 firms account for over 50%.

While the general list is unsurprising, it makes me wonder about the general state of Boston Architecture. Is there any kind of market insight available somewhere that gives a glimpse into whether it has always been like this, or if other cities have a similar breakdown?

I don't want to pass on a thread insinuating Boston should only have elite Architects designing a building on every corner, but I feel, looking from a high level, we are lacking. For having the GSD and MIT, (and CAMD, Wentworth, BAC) I would expect more experimentation, new firms, constant talent coming out of them (though I do question the effectiveness of the more elite schools in training good designers in recent years, maybe that's part of the problem...). There was a Banker and Tradesman article this week that seemed to suggest there are very few markets better than Boston's right now, so the investment looking into 2022 is very much so in the green. That's more work. How is it that 50% of it will likely go to a mere 6 firms?

The easy answer is lack of will from the developers. But there might be more to it that I'm missing, considering Boston and Cambridge, with dozens of schools and institutions, home to some more experimental architecture (because you can't expect much of anything from a typical RE Developer anymore) haven't really seen much during this building cycle. BU's Data Science Center is a good start, though I don't find it as refined of a building deserving of my nearly pointless virtual praise. MIT's new dorm was only okay - nothing of the level of design of Baker House, MIT Chapel, Kresge, Stata, or Simmons. And the home of their new AI Research Initiative, with promises to revolutionize life as we know it, is a rather uninspired building, despite being by one of the firms I want working here more often. Harvard has renovated a few buildings that are nice, and ISEC.... tried... something, but nothing that has really gotten people talking. On the RE Dev side, I was excited to see Jeanne Gang working in Kenmore Square, but the news on that project has been lacking following COVID. 0 for a few hundred million square feet is not a number to be happy about...
 

Beton Brut

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The easy answer is lack of will from the developers. But there might be more to it that I'm missing…
Thinking beyond the easy answer is the first stop on the journey to what you may be missing…

We take chances in this town, but not with money, or with really improving urban functionality. There are obstacles, some even legitimate. The winters can be truly awful. Wide swaths of the working and middle class are beset with genetic aversion to change. And to be fair, many change advocates fail to understand the psychographic of generational inhabitants of this region - livin’ heah does somethin’ to ya, kid.

More broadly, for the better part of half a century, trust in institutions has been eroding, and in some cases, institutions have quite a lot to answer for. This erosion has amplified the distrust of experts, the marginalization of science, the abandonment of intellectual discourse, and the inability to frame well-reasoned arguments. Life is easier for many of us, and we’re not better humans for it.

When you consider historical events like the impact of postwar urban renewal or the encroachment of Logan Airport into its surrounding communities, it’s easy to understand why the grandkids of the families that were displaced from the West End or Neptune Road still have axes to grind. So too, the Allston neighborhoods that are crushed between BU, Harvard, and the turnpike. And Mission Hill, hard fast against the LMA. And Dudley Square, robbed of heavy rail. And Chinatown, and the North End…

Everyone wants their pound of flesh, even if it puts the butcher out of business.

With regard to MIT, Iike the Maki’s Media Lab and and Correa’s McGovern Institute.
 
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Charlie_mta

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Boston and its metro area is doing really well compared to many cities of similar size in the US. Portland, Oregon has become an almost hopeless dump in the last 2 years, with homeless camps, human waste, trash and graffiti all over the city, with many businesses moving out, while San Francisco has become that way as well to a lesser extent. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit are also all severely lacking in many key elements compared to Boston. The Boston metro area has a strong foundation that will only keep getting stronger into the foreseeable future: a high tech and biomedical powerhouse, world renowned universities, and a historical depth and beautiful location. Boston today is like an adolescent who doesn't yet realize how gifted and powerful it actually is. It's still stuck in a pattern of thinking small, when in reality it has the gifts to think big. My hope is that in the future it will realize how great it really is and will start to more fully act and think that way.
 

Beton Brut

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Addendum, and general reaction to the incessant height-lust, the counterfeit coin of our realm. Wouldn’t it be more rewarding if we focused our attention on demanding architecture of this quality from the BCDC/BPDA?
 

Charlie_mta

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Addendum, and general reaction to the incessant height-lust, the counterfeit coin of our realm. Wouldn’t it be more rewarding if we focused our attention on demanding architecture of this quality from the BCDC/BPDA?
That link is excellent. I've heard on AB, at times, that the shoddy, cheap styling and materials in some recent buildings (i.e. Kenmore Sq. North and the new Belmont High School) is somewhat unavoidable and inevitable given today's construction costs, yet the European examples you cited in the link would tend to belie that.
 

stick n move

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Everybody knows about the slanty roof on blue glass highrises, but Ive been noticing it creep into condo/apartment buildings in Boston and Im liking it a lot. Hopefully its starting to become something unique to Boston that differentiates it from other condos going up in other cities.

tilia forest hills


90 antwerp allston
Jefferson park cambridge (this is public housing so lesser quality but still there)


Arthaus Allston


Mass timber residential going up in Roxbury
 
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Suffolk 83

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Boston and its metro area is doing really well compared to many cities of similar size in the US. Portland, Oregon has become an almost hopeless dump in the last 2 years, with homeless camps, human waste, trash and graffiti all over the city, with many businesses moving out, while San Francisco has become that way as well to a lesser extent. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit are also all severely lacking in many key elements compared to Boston. The Boston metro area has a strong foundation that will only keep getting stronger into the foreseeable future: a high tech and biomedical powerhouse, world renowned universities, and a historical depth and beautiful location. Boston today is like an adolescent who doesn't yet realize how gifted and powerful it actually is. It's still stuck in a pattern of thinking small, when in reality it has the gifts to think big. My hope is that in the future it will realize how great it really is and will start to more fully act and think that way.
What does this have to do with stefal's discussion? He's pondering the state of ARCHITECTURE and you dont mention it once
 

Beton Brut

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In Boston the state of architecture is directly connected to the health and attitude of the city.
Pretty much what I inferred from Charlie’s post, but I’ll let him craft his own reply.

All I can add is that people have the most difficult time accepting new ideas (especially good ideas) from “outsiders.” New England tribalism is a gargantuan obstacle to progress.
 

BeyondRevenue

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A tactic I've seen used successfully in the 'Ends' (West, South, North) and downtown: Get a legit local guy on the developer's payroll and hire the equivalent of buzz agents from a pool of would be vocal objectors. Stockholm-ed sheep in their own clothing.
 

Beton Brut

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^ This is precisely the tactic that Richard Fields and his business partners tried to use in East Boston, Revere, and surrounding communities to convince voters that bringing a casino to Suffolk Downs was the best idea since sliced bread. Fortunately, folks were smarter than the million dollar messaging of the proponents. Indeed, if you’re willing to part with seven figures to promote your “great idea,” your idea probably isn’t great for anyone but you…
 

Charlie_mta

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What does this have to do with stefal's discussion? He's pondering the state of ARCHITECTURE and you dont mention it once
The cautiousness, provincialism and tribalism that's holding Boston back architecturally is still strong, but what I was saying is that Boston metro has all the bones and resources to begin to break free of that, and I think it will. State Street HQ, as someone on AB said recently, is like Boston finally dipping its toe into the 21st century. I mentioned the other cities of similar size because they are falling behind while Boston is moving ahead, even with all of its still substantial provincial mindset. The more Boston thinks of itself as a world-class city, as it should, then the more world-class projects will happen.
 

stick n move

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The multi-polar core model Boston is moving towards now is going to be Boston 2.0. When suffolk downs, allston yards, bayside, cambridge crossing, union sq, andrew sq/dot ave corridor, brighton landing, assembly, volpe, etc start to fill in its going to really usher in a new age for the city. I dont think peopld fully appreciate yet just how huge of a shift this is going to be for the city and region.
 

Blackbird

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The multi-polar core model Boston is moving towards now is going to be Boston 2.0. When suffolk downs, allston yards, bayside, cambridge crossing, union sq, andrew sq/dot ave corridor, brighton landing, assembly, volpe, etc start to fill in its going to really usher in a new age for the city. I dont think peopld fully appreciate yet just how huge of a shift this is going to be for the city and region.
Now if only we had a public transit system that was better at moving people between these nodes rather than just into and away from Park Street.
 

Charlie_mta

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Now if only we had a public transit system that was better at moving people between these nodes rather than just into and away from Park Street.
I would prefer LRV and HRT lines to be built, but given the lack of funding at the Federal level, I think new BRT routes, like the new one on Columbus Ave, are the answer for the near-term.
 

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